Toxins, Fungus Attack Sea Lions, Dolphins, Bats

Pigs may be at the forefront of this week's pandemic alert news cycle, but other animals are having bio-problems of their own.

In Southern California, more and more sea lions and dolphins are getting sick possibly because of a toxic algae bloom.

"In the past weeks, approximately 20 marine mammals have been rescued ... that are suspected to be suffering from the toxin," Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue told City News Service. "Many of the sea lions are currently being treated at various local marine mammal rehabilitation facilities."

Wallerstein said the problem might be related to a toxic algae bloom that produces a biotoxin known as domoic acid, which accumulates in anchovies and sardines that feed on the algae.

Wallerstein said that because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, people should stay at least 50 feet away from animals. Violators could be fined up to $10,000 and face a year in prison.

It's also a tough time to be a bat.

In 33 states, thousands of caves and former mines will be closed in an effort to stop a fungus that has already killed an estimated 500,000 bats.

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Bats have been dying at alarming rates from what scientists call "white-nose syndrome," so-named because it appears as a white powder on the face and wings of hibernating bats. The problem was first spotted in New York and within two years has spread to caves in West Virginia and Virginia.

Researchers believe the fungus is spread from bat to bat, but they have not ruled out a human connection, said Dennis Krusac, a biologist with the service's Southern region.

"We don't have the answers at this point," he said. "If we have answers in a year or sooner, we can open them (caves) back up."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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